Oh, the stories he could tell…

One year ago today, I got a text that said, “Have you heard?” It was about 7:00 on Sunday morning, and I hadn’t heard anything. I’d just gotten out of the shower and was about to eat breakfast. I hadn’t even started perusing Facebook yet. So, I responded, “No. What’s up?” The message I got back was one I never expected. “Chuck died early this morning.”

Chuck Culpepper was my priest and the reason not only that I go to church, but probably the reason I still call myself a Christian. He was a mentor, a leader, a jokester, an inspiration, a croquet professional, baseball lover, big kid, and my friend. For my whole life up until I started going to St. Alexis Episcopal Mission in an old warehouse in downtown Jackson, I went to church because it was expected of me. But, after my first time hearing Chuck preach, I started going because I wanted to. I needed to. I became part of a community, and even met my long-time across the street neighbor there.

Chuck’s sermons had a relaxing quallity. They always started off with a story that somehow tied into the day’s scripture, though sometimes I would’ve never thought it could. The stories were almost always stories of his life growing up in Meridian, losing his father at a young age, his grandmother’s influence on him, his time in law school, the navy, or seminary, or any number of other experiences. Even though humor was usually involved, his sermons seemed to always curve around to a softening of his voice, and he would wrap up in a way that let you know God was in the room with you.

This is one of his stories about us being called to be fishers of men that I remember well.

When he was in the Navy, he was stationed in Virginia, and while he was there, one of his friends on the ship was getting married somewhere on the coast of North Carolina. He and a couple buddies were groomsmen, so they all loaded up in a car and drove down for the day. It was a summer wedding, so it was hot in their rented tuxedos in an un-air conditioned church. Also, being a Baptist wedding, the reception consisted of mostly sherbet punch and pimento & cheese sandwiches. So, being sailors, he and his buddies couldn’t wait to get out of there. As soon as they could split, they stripped off the monkey suits and headed for the nearest store they could find that sold beer. The group of them went in and bought a Styrofoam cooler, several 6 packs, a bag of ice, and some snacks for the drive back to base. When they put the items on the counter to pay for them, the man behind the counter looked at them and said, “You boys must be going fishing.”

Charles Leland Culpepper
4/11/1950 – 7/28/2019

Shade tree

Twenty feet away, it was hotter than Satan’s armpit, but under that pecan tree, it was a different world.

Timing

There’s a lot going on in my state, the US, and the world right now, and there’s a lot of conflict. There’s Covid and whether it’s real, if things should be closed or reopened, if masks are really necessary, police brutality, support for police, systemic racism, black lives matter, all lives matter, blue lives matter, biscuits vs. cornbread vs. yeast rolls vs. split top rolls, democraps vs repugnicans… Conflict is nothing new. Even in good times, we can come up with something to fight about.

If you’re not aware of the situation surrounding the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, welcome back from your extended coma. The video of this black man’s life being slowly snuffed out by the knee of a police officer isn’t really debatable. Unfortunately, it was also more than just an isolated regrettable incident. Statistics vary, but black men die at the hands of police at a significantly higher rate than other demographic groups. They are also incarcerated at a higher rate, are paid less, have less access to healthcare, have lower rates of higher education, and are victims of a spate of other disparities. There are systemic issues that have to be addressed to ensure that all men are created equal.

Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, the hashtag #blacklivesmatter has been a rallying cry of people, black and white, to bring attention to racism in America. It has since been trending worldwide.

In response to the black lives matter movement, there have been counter movements of all lives matter or blue lives matter as well as some others. It’s been said before, and I’ll reiterate that black lives matter is not intended to diminish or insinuate that other lives don’t matter. It’s saying that black lives matter too. It’s a plea for a black kid walking through a neighborhood to be treated the same as a white kid, to not have to worry if someone is going to call the cops because they’re walking while black, that they can wear a hoodie in public, that they can get pulled over for speeding and not have their car searched with no probable cause other than they’re black or that they won’t end up arrested or killed. That’s what I’m hearing their reality is.

Those are things that I’ve never been scared of. It’s never crossed my mind that I’d be perceived like that, probably because I never have been to my knowledge.

There’s lots of bad stuff going on in the world. There are lots of good cops. There’s police brutality against white people. We are all children of God, and all our lives matter. But…

Right now, it’s not about all lives matter or police lives matter or whatever. Right now, it’s about racism and the injustices of black people in our country. Right now, their voices need to be heard. Right now, all lives matter says that you don’t care about their cries for justice. Right now, it’s the time to shut up and listen. Right now, it’s the time for some self-examination, time to think about our attitudes and actions, how they’re perceived and what exactly our motivations and intentions are. It’s the time for the mob of Christians to show some of God’s love that we always talk about.

All that other stuff that people are using to diffuse or refute the current groundswell of change welling up around us may or may not have its time to be brought to the forefront, but now isn’t it.

Miss X

Miss X was a boss I had for a few months about a dozen years ago. She was a political hire, one of those friends of the family or donor’s kids type hire that wasn’t rooted in solid qualifications or experience. But I liked her for the most part, because she was nice and fairly personable. The job she was given was way outside her skillset, though.

Office technology eluded her sometime around 1999. She came in my office several times a day holding a sheet of paper with scribbles all over it. They would be either pages of a document we were working on or an email she’d gotten. After explaining what she wanted to change or how she thought she should respond, she’d ask me to correct the document or respond to the email and hand me her marked up sheet of paper. It took me the entire six months she was there to teach her how to forward me an email and send an email with a file attached. I’m pretty sure those skills remained in our offices as soon as she exited, though.

At that time in my life I was a fat kid. So, as fat kids are prone to do, I stopped at Whataburger every morning on my way in for a greasy sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit combo with a large root beer to eat at my desk before everyone else got to the office. Well, she started coming in early, too, and the smell of my food down the hall in my office must have triggered her inner bird dog. I’d hear, “Hey, Robbie. How’s it goin’?” as she’d plop down in a chair and start shooting the bull while I was mid-biscuit. I think she was actually hoping I’d offer her a bite or drop a hash brown on the floor she could snatch up. I don’t really like people talking to me from behind where I can’t see them or watching me eat, and she broke both rules daily.

Also as fat kids do, I kept snacks in my desk. I had a drawer where I’d keep nabs (peanut butter and crackers for you Yankees) or candy or some other pants-button-popping tasty treat. Then, one day, I made the mistake of offering her something from my goodie drawer. That polite gesture opened the floodgate. At that moment, it became OUR snack drawer. She started just coming in and burrowing through it even while I was sitting at the desk working. “Whatcha got to eat?” as she pulled the drawer open.

However, when I started running low in my five pound bag of peanut M&Ms, I had to take evasive action. I moved all my good snacks to another drawer on the other side of my desk and left all the crap I didn’t really like and stuff I knew she didn’t like in the original drawer. This became the decoy drawer. It took a few weeks, but she eventually decided I didn’t have anything worth eating anymore and started bringing her own snacks.  

I really didn’t dislike her, no matter my level of aggravation. She was a sweet lady that was put into a situation she wasn’t prepared for. She exceeded the Peter principle, the notion that everyone rises to his maximum level of incompetence and remains there. That’s why on the day she was freed to pursue other opportunities, I really did feel bad for her as she wandered the hallway in our suite, shoeless, eating from a king size box of Wheat Thins she carried close to her chest as if it was her newborn infant, and noticeably sobbing.

“Miss X, remember to click on the paperclip square thingy to attach a file to your email, and click the arrow pointing to the right to forward me your emails. There’s no reason to print them anymore.”

Thanksgiving haiku

I ate way too much

My pants will barely button

Please pass the Rolaids

Thanksgiving dinner laws

In light of the upcoming holiday for gluttony and good deals, I thought I’d give y’all a few tips for preparing and executing the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.

Continue reading “Thanksgiving dinner laws”

The night Mitch Buchanan nearly burned down the Cotton District

Before I get started, I need to let you know that this absolutely didn’t happen, and I absolutely was not involved in any similar occurrence at any point during my time in college. Besides, I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out on any crime that may have been committed during the fictional event that I had absolutely nothing to do with.

Continue reading “The night Mitch Buchanan nearly burned down the Cotton District”

It’s my America too

This week, we celebrate Independence Day here in the good ol US of A, because 243 years ago from this Thursday, a bunch of radical colonials decided they were tired of living under the tyrannical rule of England’s King George and declared enough was enough. They told George they were tired of his taxes and lack of voice in Parliament, and after a few tough years of whipping the asses of limey redcoats, they gained their freedom to operate as they saw fit. So, off we went as a new nation, making rules, refining them, defending them from threats at home and abroad, and living an experiment in democracy.

We unsuccessfully tried to divide the country in two during the Civil War and I hope folks will quit fighting that fight one day. We stopped hostile attempts to take over the world twice because those Germans were awfully persistent. We fought “police actions” in little known foreign lands that destroyed the minds and bodies of so many young men and women. We fought in the desert to topple a corrupt regime (because they had oil). And most recently, we’ve been at war for nearly 20 years battling terrorism around the world.

At home, we’ve struggled with equality, the idea that all men and women are created equally and have certain inalienable rights as was stated so prominently in our Constitution. That struggle included slavery and the people stolen from their homes, brought to the America, forced to work for no pay, and treated inhumanely. There was the fight for equality for women beginning with women’s suffrage. There was the fight for workers’ rights and child labor restrictions. There was the fight against robber barons and unfair business practices. There was the fight against poverty during the great depression. There was and is the fight for civil rights for all Americans based on race, sexual orientation, religion, and many other categories.

Through all the strife and troubles of our past, I think we’ve slowly but surely gotten things more right than wrong. However, we have a long way to go, and I’m confident that through all the societal hiccups and setbacks, we’ll continue to overcome issues from our past and new problems as they present themselves. We’ve proven ourselves to be a resilient people, and thank God I was lucky enough to land here.

It will come as no surprise to most folks who know me that I’m not a very conservative person, especially when contrasted against my fellow Southerners. I don’t agree with the vocal majority around here on issues of abortion, gun control, religious freedom, LGBTQ issues, climate change, civil rights, racism, immigration, assistance for the poor, healthcare, and lots of other issues. When I see images of the President hugging the flag or hear him spouting divisive nonsense, see anti-immigration protesters waving the flag, or hear people being interviewed as they await entry to some conservative political rally, it feels like that group is asserting that they’re more American than anyone who disagrees with them at the best and that their opposition hates America at the worst.

Just yesterday there was a story in my local news about some folks protesting outside a Barnes and Noble because the bookstore was turning children gay. In the picture there were three adults and a pre-teen child surrounded by signs calling down God’s thunder on the gay factory disguised as a bookstore. Among the rainbow colored poster boards the child must have colored judging by the level of artistic sophistication, one of the protesters was holding an American flag as if Uncle Sam had issued the protest order. I don’t bemoan their right to protest no matter how much I disagree, but it burns my biscuits when they act like they’re extra American because they hate gay people.

This is my America too. There’s enough room for all of us and our differences and the opportunity to express those differences openly and freely. (Although, I’m not opposed to making an exception for people that yell Roll Tide.) If you aren’t Native American, you came from somewhere else and assimilated into the undulating, ever-changing soup of cultures and ideas from around the world simmering and melding into the fragrant and flavorful concoction that is America.

This year, I’m gonna celebrate and be thankful I live in America where I don’t have to agree with all manner of things I don’t believe in order to be a patriotic American. So, huzzah to Uncle Sam, praise Jesus, pass the tater salad, and remember to wear eye protection during those bottle rocket wars!

Happy Independence Day to all y’all!

2 cats are worse than 1

I hate cats.

Growing up, I had dogs. Dogs are great. They love you and act like they love you. You can play games with dogs and teach them cool tricks. The only time my dogs ever bit me, they were puppies and just playing. Dogs can be helpful, too. Continue reading “2 cats are worse than 1”

Dog tired

When I was in my early teens, my grandparents were given a blue heeler (Australian cattle dog). He was a medium sized dog with a scruffy salt and pepper coat, and I thought he looked like he should be owned by a homeless person. He wasn’t anything you’d see and want to cuddle with. Continue reading “Dog tired”

I was the ballast and the hydration distribution engineer

I graduated from Brandon High School on the afternoon of Sunday, May 26, 1996, at the Jackson Municipal Auditorium. Once we all finished walking across the stage (with the exception of Mark who was on crutches after falling out of a tree while wearing a tutu a few nights before), I turned in my rented cap and gown and took pictures with my friends and family. Then, my fellow graduates and I  boarded charter buses and spent the next 15 hours going all over the metro area in order to prevent us from getting drunk and dying. We had a great time with good food, a band, dancing, and gambling until 7:00 the next morning. (Here’s the point where Mom and Dad should probably stop reading.) Continue reading “I was the ballast and the hydration distribution engineer”

They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.

 

I’d just finished a couple chocolate chip cookies and was rolling past the phone on the wall by the kitchen door when it rang. Immediately, I knew there was bad news coming even though nobody had answered yet. Mom hopped up to grab it, and I continued down the hall as if I could run away from whatever it was. “How is he?” and, “What do I need to do?” were the two things I heard Mom say into the phone that let me know my premonition was accurate.

 

Continue reading “They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.”